Labour borrow £50 million and cut £35 million
Labour councillors have voted unanimously for the Mayor's budget which will see further major cuts to essential services.
Austerity cuts forced on Bristol by the Conservative Government are a major cause. But Lib Dem councillors proposed ways to reduce cuts and save essential services. Remarkably these measures were voted down by Labour councillors.
Local Government has now faced 9 years of reductions in government funding, starting under Gordon Brown’s Labour Government. Many experts agree that local government has done its bit to find savings.
Liberal Democrat councillors proposed an amendment - one of the largest in Bristol's history, which would have reduced the Mayor's demand for more borrowing to support an unnecessary and costly capital contingency, and instead reinvest in parks, libraries and new school places.
Bristol Lib Dems, joined by members of other parties, attacked the Mayor's plan to borrow £50m, which would require repayments to be made until 2072, for what was described as a contingency even though the council already holds very large reserves and contingencies.
Liberal Democrats also spotted that the Mayor's budget had miscalculated the income from a developer tax (CIL or Community Infrastructure Levy) and under-counted this by over £10m. Reducing borrowing and capital financing and redirecting that money back into parks, libraries and social care, the Lib Dem amendment secured support from across the political spectrum - with the exception of Labour councillors. Instead they proceeded to agree cuts of £35m, cutting far deeper than needed.
Liberal Democrat councillors appealed to Labour members to put residents before political manoeuvring and accept that service cuts could be reduced through prudent budget management. Sadly Labour councillors refused to listen.
"Like many councillors I have always felt our first duty is to our residents and our city rather than following blindly political orders or dogma" says Cllr Clare Campion-Smith. "I am very disappointed that Labour councillors lacked the courage to accept an alternative way to save local services from unnecessary cuts."
Previous budget meetings have seen sensible fiscal changes proposed by Liberal Democrat councillors voted down by Labour only to be adopted by the council’s finance officers several months later. Liberal Democrat councillors hope that this may be the case again, although it will be too late to save many of Bristol’s services from severe cuts.
Also during the budget debate Liberal Democrat councillors helped stop proposals from the Conservative group which would hit Bristol’s poorest residents with massive increases in council tax bills. The Conservative plan to drastically cut the council tax reduction scheme (which discounts the council tax that is paid by the poorest households, including disabled and elderly residents and those on low pay) was thankfully blocked.